At Dutchess Community College Matt Finley & Rio Jazz celebrated their 30th annual concert. This annual assembly of top talent, sponsored by the College and the Smithsonian Institute (April is Jazz Appreciation Month), packs a resume so formidable that I have little space to note associations, recordings, or accolades. This seven-piece band has two drummers, but all other members are composers, as well as performers.
Jeff Ciampa, who has played and recorded with Bill Evans and Harry Belefonte, wrote the opening number “Up in Smoke,” which provided an ensemble warm-up. Bassist Don Miller, who has played and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry, offered “Cornbread, Chitluns, and Your Love,” a mellow sixties style number that genially offered all band members a solo. Stepping up intensity and harmony, Matt Finley’s Bossa Nova tune “When She’s Gone” conjured allusions to the style of Antonio Jobim (his most famous tune, 1962, in this country was “The Girl from Ipanema”), yet Finley (teaser photo by Duane Beyer) went on his own satisfying lyrical stroll.
Saxophonist Christopher Brellochs’ “Not Like the Foolish I’ve Known” showcased his alto saxophone with tour-de-force circular breathing. This was really hot and I’d love to hear it again. Pianist Peter Tomlinson, who teaches jazz piano at Vassar, contributed “Minor Muse,” which featured 3 horns. Audio engineer Bruce Berky joined to add a second sax to Brellochs while Matt Finley played one of his four trumpets. Everyone had a solo but it was a toss-up between horns and piano with piano leading in finesse and the horns on rhythmic volume.
To close the first half, Finley’s mambo “Thirty Cigars,” written just for this performance, turned up the throttle of exuberance. Finley has a special affection for Havana-style jazz because his father coordinated reward trips to Havana for Philco distributorship owners all over the country. While others were getting drunk in Cuba, his father was checking out music. Although he never received the recognition he deserved, he played creditable jazz piano by ear and taught Mat plenty. Whenever he came back from Havana, his dad lugged a suitcase of 45 rpm records, so that Matt was dancing to them from the age of three onwards.
Finley’s wife Denise Jordan on steel guitar opened the second half with “His Old Guitar,” a song where I helped out on the lyrics and that Matt (who has composed 62 tunes, some of them being chart hits) arranged. The mood was nicely done yet it could use more of the lyrics I wrote. Matt’s “Just a Little Bit Higher” was written for Jeff Ciampa to commemorate a mountain hike at Lake George which they once undertook. Ciampa displayed speed-picking in this upbeat, improvisational sounding tune aspiring for the clouds.
Ciampa’s “On a Slow Boat to Rio” wandered in pleasurable melodic currents as his guitar excelled in jazzy blue note riffs while Finley played flute and Brellochs wailed on clarinet. Peter Tomlinson’s “Leave a Message” was a witty piano piece accompanied by bass and drum that indicated the author was on vacation and was pleased not to answer any phone calls as his fingers explored imaginative solo runs on the ivories.
Percussionist Paul Rossman, who once played for the band and now plays in the Erin Hopson Trio, and Bruce Berky were called up to stage for the last two numbers by Matt Finley: “Julia,” a cha-cha, written for his daughter, nearly had the audience dancing; “Wake Up,” a samba, had the audience on its feet as three horns, a piano and bass, and three drummers blasted a nightcap to dance the night away. Did I fail to mention Joel Rosenblatt, drummer extraordinaire? The former Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer and Spyro Gyra drummer (for 13 years) wove a magic web that was the rock-solid foundation for this wonderful night.
Rio Jazz was a powerhouse of unity for a band that never organized a rehearsal. For more information on Rio Jazz or their recordings go to riojazz.com.